I was writing something recently and had to fact check the population of the town I grew up in. Wikipedia, much to my unsurprise, offered me Northumberland, Pennsylvania’s very own Wiki. I knew most of the sparse information on the page but it was this photo that sort of left-hooked me to the brain.
“Home”, the actual geographic location, has been shifting and moving since I left Northumberland when I was 13. Even now, “home” refers to different places, depending on my geographic location. “Home” when I’m physically in Medford, refers to my parents’ house, in Allentown. “Home”, when I’m in Allentown, could mean either Northumberland or Medford, depending on the context of the conversation and whom it’s with. For example, when my father asks me “how long are you going home for and when are you leaving?” he means home as Northumberland. If my grandmother asks, “when are you going back home?” she means Allentown. If my mother asks me the same question, she means Medford.
It’s also interesting I’ve stopped calling here, where I am now, Boston and prefer to call it Medford, even though I’ve only lived in the apartment for a few weeks. Is that a sign of content-ness with location? That specific place, its title seemingly so important. I get fixated on place names and fall in love with them easily but that’s another post for another day.
Deviations aside, I look at that photograph and I know, without even thinking about it, what it feels like to cross that bridge in the foreground, where it goes, and how it gets me to the places that are so familiar to me. I know that the sewage treatment plant is to the right, that underpass is too low for some trucks that come through town and what the French fries used to taste like at the Front Street Station. I remember unspecific moments that took place at unspecific times with such detail, I get overwhelmed by recalling smalls, the temperature of the air and the exact location of the scar on my best friend’s face. School hallways, cracked sidewalks, quiet, dimly lit stores: all of it so prevalent in my head that it seems like it just happened yesterday.
Sometimes, if I’m a passenger (rare) in a car and my eyes are closed, the road will turn and bump a certain way that feels like driving up to 428 Nottingham Drive, on Strawbridge road and I will think I am headed back to that white sided bi-level on the hill. It is strange and unsurprising how deeply embedded the streets of Northumberland are in my head and body. That place is the back of my hand, the landscape of Home. It is familiar and very present in my memory and yet so removed from my everyday life, I am shocked to know, to discover that it’s still home in it’s place in my head.
Watching that photograph load was surreal. My brain clicked and recognized it immediately but experiencing it so removed from that place physically, on a public webpage that anyone can see, wasn’t something I was prepared for. While it’s a public place populated by 3,800 people, it always felt more private, a little darker, laced with bitterness and so linked to those formative years. To see it laid out in facts disconnected memory and emotion from home and let me see it, objectively, for the first time, for a mere second since I left. A small town, buried in the mountains of Pennsylvania, occupying 1.6 square miles.
Unremarkable but still Home.